Steve Jobs :: The Other Side of the Coin

I recently posted about Steve Jobs and his proficiency at being a complete asshole.  As with many things in my life, I put something “out there” then I take a while to digest what I’ve done.  After lamenting about how I see Jobs’ personality as something that prevents me from propping him up on some kind of internal iconic pedestal, I also see a side to him that simply makes sense.

Malcolm Gladwell just published an article in The New Yorker about Jobs’ role in history as “A Tinkerer”.  Someone that riffs on previous inventions/ideas and makes them better.  Apple didn’t invent the mouse, they made it better.  They didn’t invent portable music devices, they made them better.  You can see the pattern already.  He had a vision for what he wanted from products and he imposed his will upon that vision to make it real.

His personality aside, what he did that I believe was at the core of his success was to be the final say in every aspect of the product.  The archetype that is Steve Jobs is a man who did not allow anything to be designed by committee. If the product, in its final form, did not meet his stamp of approval it didn’t go out the door.

Now, this is a pretty ballsy approach to business that I don’t think most people have the…well….balls to take on. The flip side to taking the credit for the success of the product, you’re also the goat when it doesn’t succeed. So if you’re in position to be where the buck stops on all decisions, you have to be prepared to get kicked in the teeth when your decisions fail.

I look at products that I admire most, I venture to guess that most of them had some kind of visionary at the helm.  Design by committee is the number one way for your product to become mediocre.  A group of people who approach their product development as a joint effort are going to take twice as long, have more complexity, and be more watered down than if it follows a single vision. I believe there’s a place in the world for both options.  The Microsoft and Apple paradigm will carry on in every industry well after I’m pushing daisies.

So, where does this leave me?  It leaves me wondering if there is a way to create a strong vision, take the lead on the vision, inspire those around you to follow that vision, take the pounding from everyone around you telling you that your vision is wrong, and doing it all without being an asshole along the way.

If you have thoughts, or comments…I’d love to hear them.